For the New or Future Water Well Owner Homebuyer in Pennsylvania

Welcome to Pennsylvania and Welcome to Managing Your Own Small Water Company

In Pennsylvania,  there are generally no specific construction standards for private wells and there is only some general guidance with respect to well placement and construction.  Further, private well water is not regulated by the EPA or PADEP and therefore it is up to YOU to check your water to ensure that the well produces good clean and adequate water.    This is only a short summary of the information.  If you are interested we offer a Private Well Owner Training Course that can be offered as a Workshop for Your Community, Association, or other Organization.

There are a number of steps to this process and well will break them down as follows:

Well Placement
Well Construction
Well Testing (Yield and Quality)
Well Maintenance
Annual Water Testing

Well Placement
In general, the primary guidance with to water well placement in Pennsylvania is that a water well should be 100 feet from a septic system (regulated), 50 feet from a septic tank (regulated), 10 feet from a sewer line under pressure (regulated), and 10 feet from a property line. To be honest, these isolation distance do not consider impacts from other natural conditions or activities.  In general, we  would recommend the following:

1. If possible, the private well owner should control all activities within a 50 to  100 foot radius of the wellhead, i.e.., top of the water well. These activities should include: use of pesticides and herbicides, storage of toxic or hazardous chemicals, storage or management of manure and other waste, diversion of surface water and runoff, overuse of the area by grazing animals, location of burrow pits, burn pipes, rubbish storage, or storage of used cars or other items that may contain antifreeze, oils, and greases.
2. Well casing should extend at least 12 inches above grade.
3. Well should be fitted with a sanitary well cap that has some form of venting.
4. The well should be located at least 10 feet from a property line.

Other suggested isolation distances

Delineated wetlands or floodplains (25 feet)- with top of casing 3 feet above flood elevation.
Surface waters (25 feet) Storm water Systems (25 feet)
BioInfiltration Stormwater Systems (50 feet +)
Spray Irrigation/ Septage Disposal (100 feet+)
Sinkholes and Closed Depressions (100 feet +)
Farm silos / manure storage (200 feet) Septic Systems (100 feet)
Septic Tanks/Holding Tanks (50 feet)
Chemical Storage/Preparation Area (300 feet)

Well Construction

1. Prefer the use of steel casing that extends at least 15 feet to 20 feet into firm bedrock or 60 feet below ground, whichever is greater.
2. Casing should be of  adequate wall thickness to deal with corrosion and stress – 19lb casing.
3. The base of the casing should contain a driveshoe on the bottom of the casing and casing centralized in the borehole.
4. Wells drilled by a licensed well driller using only potable water as the drilling fluid.
5. Casing should be double circumferential welded or threaded casing
6. Well caps should be sanitary well caps that are properly vented.
7. Annular space should have a grout layer that is at least 1.5 inches thick.
8. Pitless adapters should be used over well pits.

Well Testing (Yield and Quality)

After the well is drilled, the well should be developed using surging, air-lift, or pumping the well.  This is done to clean out the well cuttings and improve yield.  In some cases, this needs to be done to improve the efficiency of the borehole. If the well yield is low, some well drillers will hydrofrac the well. If you are going to hydrofrac a water well, we recommend zone hydraulic fracturing to isolate the deeper potential water-bearing zones.   After the well development has been completed, a shock wellbore disinfection should be conducted.  The well should be allowed to fully recover and a minimum 2-hour yield test is recommend.  After the yield testing, the well should be shock disinfected.  For information on shock disinfection – we recommend visiting Water-Research Center.   The well yield data should include the static water level (water level before pumping), maximum dynamic water level (maximum depth to water during pumping), pumping rate, and length of the pumping test.  This data should be included on the well log and the specific capacity of the well should be reported.  The specific capacity is the rate of yield or gallons per minute per foot of drawdown.  The drawdown is the difference between the static and dynamic water level measurement. 

Before the end of the yield testing, it is recommended that a general water quality analysis of the well be conducted.  This testing should include bacterial quality, general water quality, and specific parameters that are known problems for your region.  Do not rely on a free water analysis or a basic water quality screening down by the well driller.  This should be either information or certified testing conducted by a laboratory.  For information on this type of testing, please contact the Keystone Clean Water Team or the Water-Research Center.   The initial water quality testing data should be reviewed and evaluated.  The first well or city water quality test should be a comprehensive water quality check.  If you are want informational water testing, we would recommend either the Well Water Check or the City Water Check Option. This evaluation should include the need for any further action to improve the well security, continue with well development, or add equipment to improve well water quality.  In some cases, water treatment systems are installed as an additional barrier or layer of protection.  In many cases, the only type of additional treatment that is needed is a whole-house particle filter and a sanitary well cap.  For information on Do-it-Yourself Water Treatment Systems.

Well and System Maintenance

At a minimum, the well water system should go through an annual inspection.  This inspection could be associated with the annual water quality test or inspection of any water treatment systems.  During this evaluation, the aesthetic quality of the water should be evaluated and some basic field water quality screening should be conducted.   For the field water screening, it is possible this can be done using a number of low-cost meters or an informational water quality screening test.

Annual Water Testing

Depending on the results of the initial evaluation, the results should be evaluated to determine what are the water quality parameters that should be monitored to help track the general water quality of the well.  If a water treatment system was installed, the annual water quality evaluation should include the performance of the water treatment system.  If you need help with determining what you need, WE can Help – Here is a partial listing of the informational water screening tests !  The Keystone Clean Water Team can provide guidance on the selection of water quality parameters, review water quality data, and make recommendations on the water quality parameters.  At a minimum, the Keystone Clean Water Team offers a Health Screen Test (only $ 50 if you have the sample bottles (video)) and testing includes bacteria, pH, conductivity, iron, manganese (if suspected), nitrate, total dissolved solids, total hardness, and alkalinity (Health Screen Test Order Form).    If you are interested, you may want to obtain a copy of our Educational Booklet and Brochure.

To Review a Number of our Case Studies – Common Private Well Problems and Fixes.

Everything we do began with an idea.

We have offered “Free” Assistance to this effort, but if you are a private well owner that needs assistance we are happy to help.

We realize your time is precious and the world is hectic. CCGG’s volunteers do only what they’re comfortable with. It can be a little or a lot.  Get YOUR WATER Tested – Discounted Screening Tests !

For more information, please go to CCGG’s About Page or contact us.  Follow us on Twitter 

Keystone Clean Water Team is a 501(c)(3) IRS approved nonprofit, volunteer organization and your donation is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.    Unsolicited donations are appreciated (Helps us complete our mission), but we also do local educational workshops and local cellphone/small electronic recycling programs. If you would like to set up a program to help recycle cellphones at an event, business, or other organization.  Through our program we can recycle  cell phones, iPods, game systems, and small digital cameras.  If your interested, please contact us.

Help the Organization and Get Your Water Tested or Order the Private Well Owner Guide (proceeds benefit This Organization).  Keystone Clean Water Team!

Pa. health care company seeks gas drilling facts
May 20, 2012

Some people are absolutely sure gas drilling threatens public health, while others are absolutely sure it doesn’t.
Geisinger Health Systems is looking for more facts on the debate.

“Our concern is getting reliable data so we know what to do for our patients,” said David Carey, director of Geisinger’s Weis Center for Research in Danville, Pa.

Geisinger serves many patients who live in areas that have seen a recent boom in Marcellus Shale gas drilling. The gas-rich formation thousands of feet underground has generated jobs, billions of dollars and concerns about possible environmental and public health impacts from thousands of new wells.

“There’s a real need for reliable information for policymakers,” Carey said, yet some of the debate on the issue has been more emotion-driven than science-driven.

“Lack of data has not led to a lack of opinion,” Carey noted.

But with state and federal budgets under intense pressure, there hasn’t been much money available for serious medical research. Then over the last year, executives at Geisinger realized they had a big head start.

“We have a very long history of caring for patients in this region,” Carey said, noting the company serves 2.6 million patients and operates hospitals, clinics, and an insurance program in 44 north central and north eastern counties. That means they have vast troves of health care data, concerning everything from cancer to car accidents to asthma attacks.

“We can map the clinical data in both space and in time,” Carey said, meaning they can compare health in areas with gas drilling to similar areas where it isn’t happening.

Carey said the company isn’t presuming anything about the issue, though it is aware of both concerns and the economic value of the shale boom.

“Our position is, let’s collect the data and find out,” he said.

It may fall to private companies to do some of the work.

Until a few months ago, Pennsylvania public health officials had expected to get a share of the revenue being generated by the state’s new Marcellus Shale law, which is projected to provide about $180 million to state and local governments in the first year.

But representatives from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s office and the state Senate cut the health appropriation to zero during final negotiations, so now the state Department of Health is left with a new workload but no funding to examine whether gas drilling impacts health.

Many federal and state regulators say hydraulic fracturing is safe when done properly, and that thousands of wells have been drilled with few complaints of pollution. But environmental groups and some doctors assert that regulations still aren’t tough enough and that the practice can pollute groundwater and air.

The claims and counterclaims have been so extreme that some health experts feel the fear and confusion that’s been generated among the public is a problem by itself. Bernard Goldstein, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, said experience has shown that patient trust is a key component in health care.

Goldstein said Pitt is also looking at ways to use health care data to answer questions about gas drilling and possible public health impacts.

Despite all the controversy over the issue, Carey hopes Geisinger can stay above the fray.

“To the extent possible, we’re trying to stay clear of any political land mines,” he said.

“We see this unfolding in phases. I could see a batch of early studies that might focus on some diseases. Asthma is a good example,” he said, since people with that disease would be very sensitive to possible changes in air quality due to gas drilling.

Geisinger hopes to issue some preliminary results of its data analysis within the next year, Carey said, while other aspects of the research will unfold over five, 10 or 15 years.

Residents: Pa. health dept. lacks in investigating claims of illness.,149927
May 13, 2012

Inquiry finds several other shortcomings by agency concerning gas drilling.

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania Department of Health says it investigates every claim by residents that gas drilling has caused health problems, but several people say the agency’s actions don’t match its words.

Two western Pennsylvania residents told The Associated Press that health officials have fallen short in responding to their health complaints.

The AP also found that the toll-free number the agency gives out for gas drilling complaints doesn’t mention the issue in its automated menu, and the agency’s website doesn’t have a specific place for people to file such complaints.

And the AP inquiry showed that the agency didn’t begin keeping track of possible health complaints tied to gas drilling until 2011, several years after a surge of activity in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale.

“Everybody kind of just passed the buck,” said Sheri Makepeace, a northwestern Pennsylvania resident who said that starting last year she tried calling the Department of Health and other agencies over fears that nearby drilling created health problems. “I’ve talked to so many different people and have gotten so many different stories.”

Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the agency stands by earlier statements that it responds to, investigates and issues a formal response to all complaints about gas drilling and public health. Officials are working on how and where to share information on the issue with the public and expect to release details in the near future, she said.

The AP also found that previous responses from the Department of Health about the numbers of complaints it has received about drilling and health have been at best confusing and at worst misleading.

The agency first told the AP that it had received a total of about 30 complaints, and then modified that to being 30 over the last year. Now, the agency says it didn’t even begin recording such complaints until 2011.

Cronkright also told the AP that the agency has no current investigations regarding people who claim gas drilling has impacted their health.

That puzzles Janet McIntyre, one of Makepeace’s neighbors.

She made a formal complaint by phone in late February and said a health department employee replied that he would get back to her in a few days. McIntyre said she purposefully waited 30 days for a response but none came.

“He sounded as if he wanted to get right on it. And that I would have people calling me,” she said. “I was very frustrated. I was getting nowhere. That was disheartening.”

The AP started asking the health department about problems in responding to complaints in April, and then in early May McIntyre sent a letter to the agency, outlining her experience.

On Thursday, a health official called her to apologize, she said, adding that “they dropped the ball. But at least they picked it up again.”

One public health expert who’s working on gas drilling complaints in Pennsylvania said the health agency is in a difficult position.

“I’m not surprised that their protocols are a little difficult to get in place. The response to something like this is really hard,” said David Brown, a former head of environmental epidemiology in Connecticut who is now working with the nonprofit Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project to examine complaints about gas drilling.

Until a few months ago, Pennsylvania health officials had expected to get a share of the revenue being generated by the state’s new Marcellus Shale law, which is projected to provide about $180 million to state and local governments in the first year.

But representatives from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s office and the state Senate cut the health appropriation to zero during final negotiations, so now the agency is left with a new workload but no funding for the job.

Rare blood disease mix-up?
Friday, August 19, 2011

DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "Do the hemochromatosis people really have polycythemia vera," asks Robert Gadinski at Thursday's public forum on a rare blood disease in our area. The session took place at the Carbon County Emergency Management Center, Nesquehoning.

Is it possible that some folks diagnosed with a blood disease involving a build-up of iron might actually be suffering from a rarer blood disease found in unusual clusters in Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties?

The condition of iron build up in the blood is called hemochromatosis and it can look like polycythemia vera, the disease currently being investigated in the local area.

At a public forum held Thursday at the Carbon County Emergency Management Center, 1264 Emergency Lane, Nesquehoning, a member of the Tri-County Polycythemia Vera Community Action Committee (CAC) pointed out that symptoms of the two blood diseases are very similar. Robert Gadinski, Ashland, a Schuylkill County hydrogeologist and former employee of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the issue needs to be studied, especially in looking for the prevalence of a JAK2 genetic mutation found in those with polycythemia vera.

“Do the hemochromatosis people really have polycythemia vera,” asked Gadinski. “Should the JAK2 testing be extended to people diagnosed with hemochromatosis? There are similarities in the symptoms and in the illness itself.”

Hemochromatosis is an inherited disease in which too much iron builds up in the body. It is one of the most common genetic diseases in the United States. The rarer polycythemia vera is not inherited, but is acquired, although the cause is not known.

Representatives of the study panel agreed to look into Gadinski’s concerns.

Last night’s forum, led by CAC Chairman Joe Murphy, Hometown, included a presentation by a team from the University of Pittsburgh coordinated by Jeanine Buchanich. The forum came on the heels of several days of local research by the university team. The session was quickly organized and had limited advance publicity or media notification by the university.

The university is working with the Pa. Department of Health to do an expansion of the original PV study, using data from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry. Buchanich wants to see as many as possible take part.

“We’re looking to identify cases that haven’t been sent to the Cancer Registry,” said Buchanich. Before the wrap-up session in Nesquehoning, her team had spent several days in the Wilkes-Barre, Pottsville and Hazleton areas interviewing residents and meeting with health professionals.

“We talked to people in the area and obtained ‘consents’ from local PV patients,” she said, calling the trip a success. She emphasized, however, that additional cooperation is still needed.

“We need people to consent (to take part in the study) and to sign their medical records information release,” said Buchanich, adding that a target study completion date is September, 2012.

The study is examining incidences of three blood disorders plus a form of leukemia, and represents just one portion of a multipronged effort aimed at investigating reports of cancer clusters in the three-county region.

About $8.8M is being spent in research and investigations coordinated by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the CAC.

According to Murphy, some 130 cases of PV had been reported to the Registry between 2006-09 including 67 cases in 2007, but the total working number today is actually down to 33 cases.

“Some have died, some couldn’t be located and some chose not to participate,” explained Murphy.

The forum included a conference call with Dr. Henry Cole, Maryland, and Elizabeth Irvin-Barnwell, leader of the PV project at the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta.

Before the session, one participant noted that reported cancer cases appear to suggest the presence of similar PV clusters in the Shamokin-Mt. Carmel area of Northumberland County and in the Danville area of Montour County.

Research into the cause of the cancers has been under way for several years. Currently, scientists are gathering data and interviewing residents to determine whether there is a continuing cluster of the rare blood disorder, which can lead to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

The Pa. Department of Environmental Protection has been sampling drinking water, and taking dust and soil at the homes of study participants.

In addition, workers have tested water and sediment samples at the McAdoo Superfund site and cogeneration plants in the area.

A team from Drexel University is trying to identify risk factors for the disease.

In other PV-related news, Murphy is organizing the Betty Kester Alliance for a Healthy Future, a 501(c) 3 named for the woman who led the early charge in the fight against PV. She and her husband, residents of Ben Titus Road in Still Creek, both passed away from the illness.

The alliance will pick up where the CAC group ends, aided by grants. Funding for the CAC group stopped almost one year ago. Murphy has been personally financing efforts to create the alliance in order to sustain the work of the CAC group and its scientific advisory team.

Offers of assistance, either in manpower or monetary, can be directed to the alliance. More information is available at (570) 668-9099.

Tamaqua residents seek help in connecting to sewer line

By LIZ PINKEY TN Correspondent
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

LIZ PINKEY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Daniel Lattanzi, who could be facing a $25,000 bill to connect to the sewer main, called the wildcat sewer situation in Tamaqua a "moral issue" and requested that the borough provide some relief for residents facing large bills as they connect to the sanitary sewer.

Members of Tamaqua’s Borough Council got an earful last night from several citizens who are unhappy about the fact that they are responsible for footing the bill to connect to the sanitary sewer, after years of illegally, and in most cases, unknowingly, discharging waste into the Wabash Creek.

Although the project and its expense have people upset, one of the other issues that came to light at last night’s meeting is the fact that by delaying the investigation of the problem the borough may have caused citizens to miss out on opportunities to seek outside funding or loans to help finance the project.

Anna Brose, of 249 West Broad St., said that the first letter she received regarding the problem and explaining that dye testing would be completed in the future was in 2008.

“It has taken three years to have the dye test done. I have a problem with that,” she said. “There is no financial aid available. Two years ago, three years ago, there was money available. Now there is nothing.”

Brose went on to say that she had received a letter from the borough stating that there was money available through the USDA and through Schuylkill Community Action.

“That money has dried up,” she said. “Schuylkill Community Action said their funding dried up two years ago.”

Brose said she could take a low interest loan through the borough, but still balked at the cost.

“I have paid a lot of money to the borough, as have a lot of people in this room,” she said, referring to the estimated $9,200 she has paid in sewer bills over the last 30 years. “We just can’t absorb this amount of money, when this could have been done how long ago and money would have been available,” she said.

Borough President Micah Gursky agreed that the situation is not a good one. However, he stood by the borough’s process.

“Everyone agrees that it should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “Our initial plan was to dye test the properties, but the cost was much higher than we could afford as a borough. That was the delay. We were trying to figure out options, how to figure out who needed to hook up.”

Gursky also said this is not the first time that the borough has had to deal with properties where the owners believed that they were connected to the public system and were in fact, not.

“It happens from time to time,” he said. “Unfortunately, everyone is required to hook up.”

Councilman Tom Cara said that the borough was willing to “let this thing go on because we didn’t want to put the burden on you.” However, Gursky disagreed.

“You can’t flush your toilet into the creek,” he said.

Resident Kevin Kellner, who lost his home at 5 South Lehigh St. in a fire on July 5, was one of the property owners who was notified that he was not connected. Kellner said that his lawyer had advised him that the residents will be required to pay to connect to the sewer, however, he told him that he should recoup the money that he has paid to the borough over the years in sewer bills.

Gursky said that the borough has “been down that road before” and does not expect that the borough will be required to reimburse residents. Kellner also asked why DEP has not been held accountable for the cleanup of local waterways, including the Wabash and the Panther Creek.

Another unfortunate issue with the timing of the project has to deal with the Streetscape project that was recently completed along sections of Broad Street. Many of the property owners will be required to dig through the new sidewalks and pavers and replace them in order to connect to the sewer main.

“Yeah, we’re kicking ourselves because we’re going to have to cut into new sidewalks,” said Gursky.

One resident could be looking at an even larger project. Daniel Lattanzi, of 403 E. Broad St., is facing an estimated $25,000 in bills as he would need to connect to a main located on the other side of Broad Street, which would necessitate digging all the way across Route 209. Lattanzi has lived at the seven unit apartment complex since 1950 and owned it since 1962. Although he said he could pursue a cheaper alternative and install a grinder pump and avoid crossing 209, he has no control over what is going into that pump and is not willing to risk incurring more expense for the continual upkeep of the pump.

“I can’t get a bit of help. We’ve been hung out to dry,” he said, calling it a “moral issue.”

“I feel the borough should do something,” he added.

Another resident, Maria Burke, of Rowe Street, asked what will happen to residents who cannot comply with the Aug. 31 deadline. Burke expressed the frustration that many residents feel at being told they are breaking the law.

“I don’t want my crap going in the freaking creek. Who does? We want to do the right thing,” she said, but she indicated that with a newborn at home, she may not be able to find the money and additionally, trying to find a plumber to complete the work by Aug. 31 is going to be difficult with more than 40 properties needing to be addressed.

“We’re begging you,” she said to council members, “be an advocate for us.”

Councilman Brian Connelly said that the borough will contact other offices, including U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, to see if there is any aid that can be made available to residents.

However, he and other council members are not optimistic that funding will be forthcoming, especially not by the Aug. 31 deadline.

Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt said that the borough will definitely need to ask DEP for an extension. The Tamaqua Public Library has already missed its deadline to connect to a lateral on a neighboring property and will need to look at another alternative.

Steigerwalt said that DEP has been advised of that situation and has not approved or denied an extension request, it has just asked that it be corrected as soon as possible.

Doubt on cancer cluster legislation,0,6315339.story

By Andrew McGill, Of The Morning Call
9:57 p.m. EDT, July 10, 2011

Some fear measure, which would create ‘first-responder’ task force, may not be genuine effort to protect public health in Carbon, Schuylkill, Luzerne counties.

Merle Wertman has been kept waiting a long time.

Eight years ago, doctors diagnosed him with polycythemia vera, a rare cancer that thickens the blood to a sludge only bloodletting can relieve. His neighbors in Tamaqua had just started to speak up, to declare something was wrong in the coal region, something that made people sick.

Eight years, millions of dollars in grants and countless studies later, investigators still don’t know why Wertman fell ill or why so many of his neighbors in this rural region share the same disease.

So every time the 66-year-old sits at a public meeting, checks his hemoglobin count or makes the twice-monthly trip to Coaldale for treatment, he can’t help but wonder: Are we being ignored?

“This is going on for eight years, and we’re getting no headway with it,” he said. “There’s no answer.”

Concerned by reports of cancer clusters in his own district near Wilkes-Barre, state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, proposed a bill last week for a statewide cancer cluster task force that would investigate cases like the coal region’s.

Pitched as a union between the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection, the team would be the state’s first responders, evaluating the situation and calling in the feds if necessary.

His measure drew applause from residents in Pittston, who say runoff from a local mine has sickened dozens. But  those who have been here before — namely weary members of the coal region’s Community Action Committee, the guardians of the area’s only federally-confirmed cancer cluster — have learned to be skeptical.

“My fear is that this is not a genuine effort to protect public health,” said Henry Cole, an environmental scientist from Upper Marlboro, Md. and the committee’s hired expert. “My fear is that it will be used to funnel public discontent into a system that can be controlled without any real protection.”

Yudichak’s bill would require the Department of Health to develop guidelines for investigating cancer clusters. It would bring together a team of experts in epidemiology, toxicology, pollution control and other specialties to look into complaints and write a report.

Anyone could submit a petition to call in the response team. The Department of Health would consider the site’s local pollution sources, significant health threats or the lack of good data.

“Any way that you can make the bureaucracy of state or federal government work more efficiently is a good thing,” Yudichak said. “Particularly when you’re talking about an emotional issue like this.”

The senator wrote the bill amid complaints from residents in Pittston, who said they had to go to local television stations before anyone would look into the high rate of cancer in some neighborhoods. The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t found evidence of a cluster and said it won’t investigate further, residents say.

He’s lauded by his Luzerne County supporters, who say the bill would set into statute a clear path to addressing their concerns.

The subjects of the coal region’s cancer cluster study aren’t so sure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been investigating the cluster, which spans Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties, for nearly five years, making those who live in the area all too aware of the government’s limitations.

Joe Murphy, president of the Community Action Committee remembers 2004, when representatives from the Department of Health told him a cancer problem “didn’t exist.” DEP is hardly more popular. At a meeting in Tamaqua in June, residents heaved a collective sigh of exasperation when a DEP spokesman said tests to determine a cause haven’t found anything conclusive.

Neither state agency has the experts necessary to effectively investigate cancer clusters, Murphy said. For example, he said, much of the groundwork in the Tamaqua investigation has been outsourced to universities and professional contractors.

It’s also unclear how Yudichak’s team would be financed. The current bill doesn’t appropriate funds, and the senator admits both departments may have to use existing equipment and personnel.

That’s what Cole, a veteran and skeptic of government investigations , calls a recipe for neglect. He’s doubtful Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration would push the envelope on environmental issues, particularly when industry could stand to lose.

“They function in accordance with the policy of the executive branch of government, which is to promote energy development — with environmental protection taking the back seat in the bus,” he said. “This bill would do little to change that.”

Despite his distrust, Wertman is willing to give Yudichak’s bill a chance. Anything is better than being ignored, the polycythemia vera patient said. And hope does spring eternal.

“The more people you get involved, the better,” he said. “I’m not in love with DEP, don’t get me wrong, but maybe there’d be someone that could turn things around.”

Coal region still far from finding cause for mysterious cancer,0,2997474.story
10:35 p.m. EDT, June 18, 2011

Researchers studying a cancer cluster say they’re still mastering the basics in an investigation that’s stretched five years.

Five years have passed since federal researchers first came to Pennsylvania’s coal region seeking the origins of a mysterious disease.

And while numerous government agencies, hospitals, doctors and universities have joined the hunt, a cause remains elusive, those gathered in Tamaqua for an update of the studies found out Wednesday.

“PV” is as well-known as anthracite in the Pennsylvania coal region, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the rare form of cancer has taken unusually strong root. Estimated to affect one in 100,000 Americans — though researchers aren’t firm on that number — polycythemia vera has been known to hit four families on a single street in Tamaqua.

The victims have little in common, researchers say. They don’t have the same jobs, the same ancestry, the same lifestyle. The only things they share are age — the disease strikes few under 60 — and an attachment to the three-county region of Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties, home to one of the CDC’s few confirmed cancer clusters.

And to hear scientists speak at a community meeting Wednesday, proving anything further could be slow going.

At the Tamaqua Community Center, researchers said they’re still struggling with the basics of the investigation: finding people with PV, winnowing out the false positives and narrowing down possible environmental causes.

In a University of Pittsburgh study seeking to confirm legitimate cases of the blood cancer, only 27 patients out of the 164 queried agreed to participate. The numbers also are low for a sister study at Drexel University in Philadelphia, which has gotten 26 positive responses out of 117.

To date, researchers have diagnosed 372 cases.

But many of the names provided to researchers by the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry are out of date, either because of death or a change in address. Reporting irregularities mean researchers still aren’t sure how prevalent the cancer is in the general population.

“The primary data collection is very tedious,” said Carol Ann Gross-Davis, a researcher at Drexel. “But things are still progressing. Since Wednesday, we got two more cases. That’s how we have to count them.”

Progress has been similarly slow for state Department of Environmental Protection field workers, who have collected water, soil and sediment samples from homes of PV patients, nearby power plants and area water sources. They’ve found little, with water tests showing scattered elevations of lead and nitrates and a few homes showing moderate spikes in radon.

The one place they haven’t looked? The air. That’ll be left to private contractor Peter Jaran, who’s reproducing some of DEP’s tests and extending the search into the atmosphere, heavy with the grit of several nearby power plants.

But the $8 million in federal funding for the investigation includes a deadline, and several projects are coming due. Gross-Davis said her study, which seeks to find demographic data among PV patients, was supposed to end in September, far too early.

She’ll apply for an extension. But in an investigation that has grown many limbs — funding is split among a dozen separate projects and 10 organizations — coordinating efforts with other researchers has gummed the gears in finding PV’s cause.

At the same time, funding for the Community Action Committee, the investigation’s main public relations link to the coal region community, has nearly run out. Organizer Joe Murphy said the government has denied his request for $50,000 to keep the program going for another year, leaving him scrambling to find donors.

The group runs a PV support organization and distributes information on the progress of the studies.

The need for communication couldn’t have been clearer Wednesday. Residents, who have grown far too familiar with phrases like “allele burden” and “causal factors,” threw out suggestions: Have you looked at heredity? How about coal ash?

Frustration mounted.

Amid their questions, officials began hedging that they may never find the smoking gun that leads to PV.

That keeps Dr. Henry Cole awake at night. A paid adviser to the Community Action Committee, he’s seen the government muddle around and throw its hands up at the end of an investigation before. He doesn’t want the same fate for Tamaqua.

“There’s a distinction between not finding evidence and saying there’s no problem,” he said. “That’s been done all  over this country.”

Drilling areas cause for concern
Posted: June 18, 2011

Health matters Pa. wants to create registry to track illnesses in fracking communities

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett’s top health adviser said Friday that he wants to make Pennsylvania the first state to create a registry to track illnesses in communities near heavy drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation to determine what kind of impact, if any, the activity has on public health.

Health Secretary Eli Avila told Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission that creating such a registry is the timeliest and most important step the Department of Health could take, and that his agency is not aware of anything like it in other drilling states.

“We’re really at the frontiers of this and we can make a speedy example for all the other states,” Avila told the commission at its fourth meeting.

Collecting information on drilling-related health complaints, investigating them, centralizing the information in one database and then comparing illnesses in drilling communities with non-drilling communities could help refute or verify claims that drilling has an impact on public health, he said. The aggregation of data and information also would allow the Department of Health to make its findings public, in contrast to the privacy that surrounds its investigation into individual health complaints and the findings that may result.

The Marcellus Shale formation, considered the nation’s largest-known natural gas reservoir, lies primarily beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio. Pennsylvania is the center of activity, with more than 3,000 wells drilled in the past three years and thousands more planned in the coming years as thick shale emerges as an affordable, plentiful and profitable source of natural gas.

The rapid growth of deep shale drilling and its involvement of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, chemicals and often-toxic wastewater are spurring concerns in Pennsylvania about poisoned air and water.

“As drilling increases, I anticipate, at least in the short term, a proportionate increase in concerns and complaints which the department must be prepared to address,” he said.

In the past year or so, the Department of Health has received several dozen or so health complaints, he said.

One woman, Crystal Stroud of Granville Summit in northern Pennsylvania, told an anti-drilling rally in the Capitol this month that she is hearing from others in Bradford County about bizarre and sudden health problems that they blame on contaminated water from the area’s heavy drilling.

Stroud herself blames her barium poisoning on well water polluted by drilling near her home, and accused state agencies of turning a blind eye.

“I am extremely confused as to why our Health Department is not interested in these issues and no one from (the) Pennsylvania Health Department has contacted us, and why are they not investigating this?” Stroud, 29, told the crowd on June 7.

“Every week I receive a phone call from someone different in my county that has unexplained rashes, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, high barium levels, a child with blisters all over his face from his mother bathing him in the water, and even a woman whose spleen burst in an unexplained way, all with contaminated water,” she said.

A spokesman for Corbett has said both the departments of Health and Environmental Protection have active investigations into Stroud’s claims, and the company that drilled the well, Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC, has denied responsibility for Stroud’s health problems.

On Friday, Avila said his agency has found no links between drilling and the illnesses and diseases presented to it so far, but he added that a wider study is necessary to determine whether there are any associations, and a health registry could accomplish that.

Such health registries are common, and in the past have been created to monitor and study data related to cancer and rare diseases, health department officials said. To set up a drilling-related registry and fully investigate drilling-related health complaints would require another $2 million a year for the department and possibly require the help of the state’s schools of public health, Avila said.

Shale drilling requires blending huge volumes of water with chemical additives and injecting it under high pressure into the ground to help shatter the thick rock — a process called hydraulic fracturing. Some of that water returns to the surface, in addition to the gas, as brine potentially tainted with metals like barium and strontium and trace radioactivity by the drilling companies.

What is Polycythemia vera?
Thursday, June 16, 2011

Polycythemia vera (PV) is a blood disease in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, causing the thickening of blood.

PV usually takes years to develop. Most people are diagnosed with PV later in life, most often around age 60 or older.

People with PV might experience headaches, tiredness and shortness of breath. They are also at risk of getting blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

At this time, there is no cure for PV, but treatment can control symptoms and avoid heart problems. Some people with PV do not need treatment but should see their doctor regularly to stay as healthy as possible and to catch problems early, according to information provided by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

In 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and the ATSDR confirmed more PV cases than expected in parts of Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties.

Much scrutiny is being done to find a potential smoking gun, or factors that would potentially lead to the disease.

The DOH and the ATSDR are tracking patterns of PV and working with research partners in looking for trends and risk factors. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control is working to improve reporting systems for PV.

“This is an environmentally stressed area,” said Dr. Henry Cole of Maryland, noting the prevalence of local power plants, Superfund sites and an abundance of fly ash being dumped in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties.

An apparent cancer cluster was first observed along Ben Titus Road, which is situated next to the Big Gorilla coal combustion waste dump of the Northeastern Power Co. The area is also home to the Superfund site McAdoo Associates. Other industrial waste sites are found in the area as well.

While the state agencies are now helping to pinpoint possible causes, critics point out that all of the industrial waste sites were created under the oversight of the former state Department of Environmental Resources, now the Department of Environmental Protection

Experts share information on cancer cluster in Tamaqua area
Published: June 16, 2011

TAMAQUA – Research continues into the high incidence of a rare cancer called polycythemia vera in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties near Tamaqua and McAdoo.

A panel of public health officials met Wednesday at the Tamaqua Community Center to provide a public update on the ongoing research.

Tamaqua-area resident Joseph Murphy, chairman of the Community Action Committee, which was established to keep residents of the tri-county area connected to the government agencies conducting the research, said the meeting was called by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, to review findings and chart future research.

Robert Lewis of the state Department of Environmental Protection said DEP has been collecting samples of drinking water, soil and air at homes in the Hazleton-McAdoo-Tamaqua area as well as nearby co-generation facilities and mine pools. Among the findings were high radon levels in 20 out of 40 homes tested; high levels of lead in two wells and high nitrates in two wells. Residents of the sampled homes were notified of the findings and the results were also provided to ATSDR, which will use the data in its effort to find the reason for high rates of polycythemia vera in the area.

Researchers are working to combine the environmental information with data resulting from a JAK2 genetic marker blood test conducted in the community last year. The JAK2 marker is found in most people who have been diagnosed with or are at risk for developing polycythemia vera.

Researchers are also working to double-check blood test findings, confirm each diagnosis and ensure the state cancer registry is updated with accurate data.

“All the research projects that were started in 2009 and 2010 are now under way,” Murphy said. “Finally, the researchers are out in the community interacting with the citizens.”

Polycythemia vera is an excess of red blood cells that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, headaches and other symptoms and is treated by withdrawing blood periodically.

In 2005, the state Department of Health found a higher incidence of polycythemia vera in Schuylkill and Luzerne counties than in the rest of the state. Next, state officials asked the federal agency to help investigate whether the people actually had polycythemia vera and to look for other cases in those counties and in Carbon County.

In August 2008, the federal agency made a public report saying 33 cases of polycythemia vera had been confirmed by detecting a gene mutation in the patients.

According to environmental consultant Henry S. Cole, who serves as coordinator and adviser to the Community Action Committee, communication between residents and the agencies is the most important issue at this point in the research.

“We’ve got interdisciplinary groups of scientists working on this, so it is very important to have communication between all agencies,” Cole said. “We have to have that back-and-fourth so that every piece of information, every finding is accurate and current and included in the final reports.”

That crucial role of communication played by the Community Action Committee could be in jeopardy, however, if a continuing funding source is not found.

The Community Action Committee was formed and funded with a portion of a $5.5 million research grant secured through then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. The local committee received $99,000 with which to operate for two years. Its responsibilities include organizing a panel of scientific experts to gather data and advise citizens, hold monthly meetings to update the community, and produce and distribute information on polycythemia vera to citizens and local medical officials.

The action committee’s two-year funding allocation ends in September. But, Murphy said, the need to stay organized and keep the public informed on the ongoing research, the findings and new information on the cause of the local cancer risk remains high.

Murphy said he applied to the ATSDR for a $50,000 grant to fund the Community Action Committee for two more years, but the request was denied.

In the absence of federal funding, Murphy said his next step is to create a nonprofit organization to support the local arm of the polycythemia vera investigation.

“We have got to keep the community aspect of this alive,” Murphy said.

Updates on the ongoing investigations are available online at

Public health officials taking part in Wednesday’s meeting included Lora Werner and Stephen Derwent of the ATSDR; David Marchetto and James Logue, epidemiological research associates with the state Department of Health; Carol Ann Gross-Davis, research leader with Drexell University; and Jeanine Buchanich of the University of Pittsburgh.

Geisinger Health System and the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine are also participating in the research.